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Supreme Court will examine concept of ‘Living Will’ in case of Irreversible Coma

October 11,2017:

Supreme Court has decided to examine the more complex concept of a “living will” where removal of life support is authorised in case of an irreversible coma.

Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

“Living Will” is a document prepared by a person in a healthy state of mind specifying that if s/he slides into a the vegetative state because of an irreversible terminal illness, debilitated existence should not be prolonged with help of the life support systems or the other medical interventions.

In this case, Relatives will be spared agonising decision of removing the life support and the doctors will be guided solely by “Living Will”.

In the several cases, reluctance to pull the plug on a loved one even when s/he is in the vegetative state prolongs pain of the patient.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, while appearing for NGO Common Cause stated that,”Right to life includes the Right to refuse the medical intervention when Board of Doctors certifies that person would not live without the life support system. I am in favour of the active euthanasia too. But living will is a corollary to passive euthanasia.”

For the Centre, ASG P S Narasimha submitted that Govt. was yet to examine pros and cons of a “living will”, which might not be a good policy as issue was far more complicated given cultural, religious and legal systems in India.

ASG further added that Govt. had already accepted SC ruling in Aruna Shanbaug case on March 11, 2011. Wherein Apex Court had stated that a specific category of the relatives could move the HC concerned to seek permission for the passive euthanasia, i.e. withdrawal of the life support system from a person in the permanent vegetative state.

Court had expounded that such a request would be vetted by Board of Medical Experts and thereafter High Court would go through report before granting or refusing the permission for the Passive Euthanasia.

Apex Court Bench comprising of CJI Dipak Misra and Justice A K Sikri, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan, faced a dilemma in going through exercise given the inherent complications associated with the issue.

SC admitted that, “It is a very troubling issue. Let us see how far we can go. To die peacefully without suffering is a right under the Article 21 of Constitution of India. But one cannot commit suicide. But one has a right to say while dying let me not suffer.”

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